Another Round on Evolution and Thermodynamics

One of the great frustrations in responding to creationist literature is their penchant for using technical sounding jargon in ways no scientist would recognize. A good example is their use of the word “information.” This word has a variety of meanings within mathematics, but creationists usually do not intend any of them when they say, “Natural selection can not lead to information increase in the genome.” Instead they mean something like, “I find it hard to believe that evolution can lead to organisms becoming more complex over time.” That is why they are generally unmoved when you ask them to clarify what they mean by information, and are uninterested in the distinctions, say, between Shannon and Kolmogorov.

Another example is the term “entropy,” and the closely related term “second law of thermodynamics.” A creationist will say something like, “Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics,” but that is not really what he means. Instead they mean something like, “I find it hard to believe that evolution can lead to organisms becoming more complex over time.”

A typical example is the following, from this article in the right-wing magazine The American Spectator. It's author is mathematician Granville Sewell.

The development of life may have only violated one law of science, but that was the one Sir Arthur Eddington called the "supreme" law of Nature, and it has violated that in a most spectacular way. At least that is my opinion, but perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it only seems extremely improbable, but really isn't, that, under the right conditions, the influx of stellar energy into a planet could cause atoms to rearrange themselves into nuclear power plants and spaceships and computers. But one would think that at least this would be considered an open question, and those who argue that it really is extremely improbable, and thus contrary to the basic principle underlying the second law, would be given a measure of respect, and taken seriously by their colleagues, but we aren't.

A while back I wrote a detailed reply to Sewell. In reply to the above paragraph I wrote:

Knowledgeable people will not show any respect for Sewell's argument, because he has produced virtually no argument at all. He describes it as his opinion that evolution violates the second law. This is not the sort of thing about which scientists are supposed to have opinions. We have ample evidence that evolution happened and that natural selection was the driving force of it. Biologists find evolutionary thinking to be very helpful in their research. If Sewell believes that it runs afoul of the second law nevertheless, then he needs to carry out the calculations that show that to be case. Otherwise he has only an opinion based on nothing.

This comes at the end of an essay in which I observed that the second law plays only a rhetorical role in creationist argumentation. They are happy to use the language of thermodynamics, but they never do the calculations that would be necessary to make a proper argument.

Unlike the creationist rhetoricians, real scientists do occasionally carry out calculations. One such example is a just-published essay by Oberlin College physicist Daniel Styer. The essay bears the intriguing title, “Evolution and Entropy,” and appears in the November 2008 issue of The American Journal of Physics.

Styer makes some estimates regarding the change in entropy of the Earth's biosphere as a result of evolution. P.Z. Myers has already posted this essay describing the very conservative assumptions that formed the basis for Styer's estimates, so I will proceed directly to his conclusion:

In other words, at a minimum the Earth is bathed in about one trillion times the amount of entropy flux required to support the rate of evolution assumed here.

Presumably the entropy of the Earth's biosphere is indeed decreasing by a tiny amount due to evolution, and the entropy of the cosmic microwave background is increasing by an even greater amount to compensate for that decrease. But the decrease in entropy required for evolution is so small compared to the entropy throughput that would occur even if the Earth were a dead planet, or if life on Earth were not evolving, that no measurement would ever detect it.

Very nice. Turns out the creationist argument from thermodynamics is at the same level as all their other arguments. Which is to say, it is complete and utter nonsense.

Styer even anticipates the standard creationist response to this sort of thing:

A creationist confronted with the estimates in this article might respond by saying, “an open system and an adequate outside source of energy are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the complexity, structure, and organization of a system to increase.

I know from personal experience that this is precisely how creationists respond. And Styer serves up the obvious and correct reply:

This article esyablishes hat evolution is consistent with the second law of thermodynamics. Whether or not biological evolution actually happens is a different question, which has been investigated thoroughly.

Quite right.

In my recent trip to the International Conference on Creationism I had a discussion with an earnest young creationist on precisely this question. Sadly, I had trouble getting him to see the light:

When I pointed out the second law implies that while the entropy of the universe as a whole is increasing, it has no problem allowing for local increases in complexity and order, he came back with the standard creationist retort that the mere fact that energy enters a system is not enough to explain increases in complexity within that system. For the life of me I could not get him to understand that he was no longer talking about thermodynamics. If your claim is that evolution runs afoul of the second law, then show me the entropy calculation that backs that statement up. If the issue is growth in complexity over time, then simply say that and stop talking about the second law

So there we go. That there is no conflict between evolution and thermodynamics is a fact. But don't expect that to stop the creationists from pretending otherwise.

More like this

I'm sure we're all familiar with the creationist chestnut that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. For people with a basic science education it is something of a litmus test. As soon as you hear someone make this argument you can be certain that you are dealing with a crank. You…
Over at Uncommon Descent, there's a bit of a kerfuffle going on about the second law of thermodynamics. Salvador Cordova got the ball rolling back in July with this barn-burner of a post excoriating his fellow ID proponent Granville Sewell for making bad thermodynamical arguments: ID proponents…
Every once in a while the ID folks get into their heads to set-up an actual academic journal. You know, a place where they can lay out all that cutting-edge research kept out of the real journals by dogmatic Darwinian stormtroopers. These journals invariably founder on their inability to find…
The folks over at Uncommon Descent have unveiled a new blogger: mathematician Granville Sewell. He's the latest know-nothing to convert a comically simplistic version of the second law of thermodynamics into an anti-evolution argument. Of course, this is one of those shark-jumping, litmus-test…

Sewell's argument boils down to "Technically, the Second Law applies only to closed systems, but that is purely a technicality. It seems to me that if the second law holds for closed systems, then the 'basic principle' ought to pretty much hold for open systems, too--at least to the point that things that cannot happen in a closed system ought to be very, very improbable in an open system. So I'm just going to assume that the second law does apply."

Essentially, he is just taking his unsupported opinion and trying to drape it in the cloak of the Second Law.

It seems to me that there's a inverted relationship between the volume of words (verbage) creationists use and the information content of their pronouncements.

Perhaps there's an equation in there somewhere, a constant that can be derived from DI press releases.

Actually, it's worse for the cdesign proponentsists than "there is no conflict between evolution and thermodynamics". If you take the Second Law description of sub-systems connected by a mass-energy flow, Natural Selection is itself a derivable consequence of the Second Law. =)

Have a gander at doi:10.1098/rspa.2008.0178 to see the math.

Apologies for being off-topic (the server is asleep at the moment), but this looks fun:

Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution
Rick Durrett and Deena Schmidt
Genetics 2008;180 1501-1509.

They mention Behe disapprovingly in the abstract.


I agree with your general conclusion that the thermodynamic argument or those about 'increasing information' basically boil down to what Dawkins calls the Argument from Incredulity. For this reason, I have found that debates about 'information' or 'entropy' with creationists in front of a lay audience are spectacular wastes of time. These are words that can have more than one meaning or emphasis depending on the discipline, and if most of my colleagues who teach high school are not up enough on the nuances to discuss them, why would anyone thing it would be a good talking point to attempt to explain these nuances to non-science folk? Alas, our inner geek often betrays us here.

Instead, here are my standard talking points on both.

1) I point out that the 2nd Law implies that things once made tend to decay, and that the mutations which drive much of evolution are errors, products of decay. In other words, evolution rather than contradicting the 2nd Law for the Universe as a whole, actually DEPENDS upon the 2nd Law in order to occur locally!

2) Rather than argue that information can increase (which is a technical point that will detour back into a discussion of entropy), I simply challenge the creationist to explain why tree rings do not contain information. Everybody knows that people can count tree rings and measure their thickness and so forth to determine the tree's age and estimate past climatic conditions, et cetera! Obviously, tree rings contain information. Where did it come from? Equally obviously, the environment! Thus, the environment as it exists, powered by the surplus energy of the sun, is easily able to generate new information on a regular basis. The source of the increasing information is the interaction between the genome and the environment.

I have never met anyone who could counter those arguments effectively in a public setting, because what it does is put the burden of presenting the nuance back on the creationist as to what is or isn't 'information' or 'entropy'. That, in turn, is due to the fact that they either lack the ability or the interest to make those distinctions.

If you ever have a chance to try either of my replies out, be sure to post about it. I'd like to know if you found them helpful....Scott

"I point out that the 2nd Law implies that things once made tend to decay, and that the mutations which drive much of evolution are errors, products of decay."

You are assuming that a mutation somehow decreases the entropy in a sequence. That is not the case. The 2nd law of thermodynamics does not apply to 'information' as we define it - it applies to energy and energy conversion. The entropy in a gene coding for a functional protein is the same as in one that does not code for a functional protein.

Also, arguing that you can't get more information in the genome through replication/mutation/selection is a bit like arguing you can't get more information into a block of granite with a chisel, and therefore God must have created that statue over there.

How do creationists actually spout this crap? I do a million things a day that lead to local decreases in entropy. Typing this comment is just one example. I ate a bunch of food, most of which was lost as heat, but some of which powered my brain to think of what to type and my fingers to type it. If we can't increase entropy locally than how do we turn bits of copper, silicon, and plastic into a computer? How did we build the pyramids from pieces of rock? How do they not understand they've got something completely and utterly wrong?

My usual answer to the "2nd Law" argument is to invoke tree leaves.

Gravity is a "law", right? And it says that objects fall towards gravitational masses. Applied in the world around us, it means that a dropped object travels towards the center of the earth's mass until it is stopped by an intervening surface through which it can't pass. Right?

But here it is autumn, and tree leaves are coming off tress all over the place -- and many of them don't exactly fall straight down. In fact, many get picked up by the wind and travel for miles, up as well as down, before they land anywhere. So does that mean gravity has been turned off? That gravity doesn't apply? OR that gravity is "being violated"?

Answer is, of course it bloody isn't. It still exists, it still applies, and it is still in operation -- but the key point is that it is in operation in the context of all the other laws of physics, like, say, aerodynamics. This means we see behavior that we would not observe in a closed, "black box" system such as are postulated for laws of physics in order to figure out what effects they have in isolation.

The "what does it do in a closed, isolated system" thought experiment is great for figuring out what aspect of real world physical behaviors can be attributed to one law or another. The reason why we have to do that in order to derive and describe these laws is that real life is damned messy, with all the laws operating at once and interacting, and making behavior very complex. In some situations a given law will come to predominate, and you will see its effects almost as clearly as if it were in isolation. In other circumstances, other laws take ascendance.

In fact, gravity itself takes ascendancy over the 2nd Law, when you are talking about the formation of stars and planets. Stars and planets and "solar systems" are far and away more "ordered" than a flat, featureless cloud of gas -- their formation represents an increase in "order", and a local decrease in entropy paid for with the currency of energy which will never be available for any other work, but is lost to the universe at large. Same as with the processes of life.

Just go back to thinking of leaves bouncing along in the wind; every law operates in the physical context of other laws and processes, and this allows "emergent" behavior. That _usually_ helps people understand how you can see local pockets of order forming, whether in the long-term processes of biospheres and evolution or in something as immediate as embryonic development.

At least, as long as they are genuinely trying to think about things, and not being dead set on adherence to a stupid ideology regardless of evidence and logic, no matter what.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 11 Nov 2008 #permalink

My favorite is the Creationist speaker who, giving a background (of ignorance) in geology, referred to the "three kinds of rock: sedimentary, metamorphic, and ignatious."
You know they're dog-doo ignorant when they can't even get the high-school level science right.

I think you're missing something here:

A creationist will say something like, Evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics, but that is not really what he means. Instead they mean something like, I find it hard to believe that evolution can lead to organisms becoming more complex over time.

You're making the mistake of thinking that this is an argument about science. Creationism is not about science, it's about politics. The creationist is not saying anything as rational as you suggest, it's rather "I won't believe in evolution because it doesn't fit with my world view, and here's a bit of blah which sounds like it might win my world view more influence amongst the dumberati."

Never forget, the scientific arguments for evolution by natural selection are not in any serious doubt and creationists with a couple of brain cells know that. They are liars in pursuit of authority for their world view. Mendacity it their weapon of choice. There is no need to engage in scientific debate. You can't win, because they're not playing the game honestly. Just think "liar!" every time a creationist speaks.

Awesome summary, thanks very much, Jason.

However, I can't help but think that what is missing from the explanation of creationist argumentation is that they don't actually care about the Science, only up to the point that they can use it to claim support for their argument.

They never use Thermodynamics to support the notion of god, and completely miss the point that the Second Law depends on a deeply rational, mechanistic and scientific view of the Universe.

Maximum Entropy is a beautiful principle. Gibbs was a Prophet. ;)

Regardless of the creationists failure to differentiate between an open and a closed system, there is a better smackdown. A creationist god presumably draws on a great deal of information to design things.

My favorite Creationist argument is stil that the *cultivated* banana proves that evolution does not exist, but rather it is "God's Design." You have to love the stupidity of their argument when the banana we eat every day was cultivated and forced to evolve by humans with no interference from any "god".

Those who swear by the second law don't seem to think it applies across the board when their deity enters the picture.
Otherwise they might accept conjecture that the Creator that could have made life got so tired or weary of the effort (entropy at work) that in the case of the earth, accidental "creation" took over the job by default.
Accounting for the extremely bad theologies that at bottom are cries to return to the fold and be made whole.

The fellow who said the intentions of the Creationists are not scientific, but political manifestations of religious belief is spot on.

Read that the Mormons gave a ton of bucks to pass Prop 8 in California. Homosexuals are pissed at Mormons now (rightly). Turns out the top leadership of the Mormon Church ordered the jihad against the homosexuals and the entire Mormon cult has to participate lest they face ex-communication. They sent their coddled youth loose on the streets of California, disguised as
regular people (no pairs, no white shirts, etc.). Their attempt was premeditated to deceive the voters of California. The part of this I find specially delicious is that they devised the strategy of abandoning their official uniforms because they must be abundantly aware we all perceive them as kooks.


Most of this is biased crap from close-minded people on both sides, and semantics is one of the core issues keeping both parties bent on proving the other wrong. Good luck wasting your time on a convoluted issue that combines personal belief and educational/theological/scientific indoctrination.

I am a creationist, and this article is done fairly well as are many of the comments.

Creationists boil down, generally, into two groups: first, the religious, those whose belief in God was established before their knowledge of origins OR whose conversion to religion has led them to re-think (or perhaps initially think through) their perspective on origins.

Second, we have the scientific, those whose studies and observations of the universe, history and reality at large have led them to the idea that all of it results from the work of an Extra-natural designer possessing intelligence different from or superior to anything we directly observe. They may or may not be religious. Indeed, many are not 'religious' at all in their own minds but are painted as such for merely suggesting there is something out there akin to "God" as revealed in various religions.

Both groups can observe the repeatable events of a sperm and egg coming together, fertilizing the single-cell egg which will then morph over 8-9 months into a full-developed human being. And we all know this is the result of three key components:

1. Energy, which is primarily supplied by the mother,
2. "Information" - in this case, DNA. Literally called genetic "code."
3. An information directional system - in this case, RNA.

The challenge of either creationist is to find all three in modern evolution. The energy is surely abundant and the world is replete with "information" - specifically, genetic information. But the information directing system is, we're told, random mutations. And we know that nearly all - if not all - are harmful or neutral.

These mutations seem to be consistent with the 2nd Law, as noted above. And yes, that does beg incredulity on the part of just about anyone to suggest an amoeba engulfing a bacterium resulted in the diversity of all known plant life today and in the past.

But let's take it back one major step to the point in time where there was no life on earth. None. The challenge of organizing inorganic materials into life with energy - or even "entropy" - is far more incredible. The "information" here is - what? Amino acids? Water? Methane? The energy is the sun coupled with surface forces (e.g. wind) and geothermal sources, perhaps a dab of gamma rays and such from space. But what is directing the information? We don't have the benefit of genetic mutations here. The bacterium and amoeba haven't shown up yet.

2nd Law or no 2nd Law, there is no practical model known for getting life from non-living material based on what we expect to find on earth's surface some 2 billion years ago.

But that's not the thing.

The "thing" is we're to accept that it happened anyway, even though it's not observable, testable, or repeatable. I'm perfectly comfortable as a fundamentalist/evangelical type with keeping Genesis 1 out of public schools (and yes, I'm quite the aberration there). But to keep spontaneous generation in the science lab as the explanation of how evolution started?

Is that good honest science -- or just a different kind of religion?

both of you are idiots evolution has nothing to do with thermodynamics.


The "thing" is we're to accept that it happened anyway, even though it's not observable, testable, or repeatable.

That's a rather naive view of how reasoning works. If there is no evidence for a proposition, then one must, of course, remain agnostic about it. But evidence does not necessarily have to be direct. Just because the 'error bars' are large, doesn't mean it's worthless. At reckoning, it is the balance of evidence that generally matters, at least if you want to make a decision.

Calling it "religion" suggests that the belief is blind, without evidence, or contrary to evidence. I suspect this is far from being the case, although I confess ignorance on details of this particular branch of science.

Jodeo: Does trial and error need an intelligent trier on the first try?

Simple truth: If you're able to play Nintendo, you've got enough spare energy to evolve.

Re Jodeo

1. Mr. Jodeo, as is universal amongst creationists, conflates the theory of evolution with the theory of the origin of life. They are two separate and distinct theories, provided that the origin of life is defined as the appearance of the first replicators. Evolution describes what happened after that appearance. Currently, the evidence strongly supports the notion that all life currently on this planet has evolved from earlier forms (called common descent). There is not the slightest controversy in the scientific community relative to common descent. The only controversy concerning evolution is the relative contributions of the various mechanisms that produce speciation (e.g. genetic drift, natural selection, etc.).

2. As is almost universal amongst creationists, Mr. Jedeo apparently believes that evolution consists of random mutations. On the contrary, mutations supply the raw material. the mechanisms operate on the raw material to produce speciation. A good analogy is the heliocenric solar system and the observation by Kepler that the planets revolved around the sun in elliptical orbits. This corresponds to common descent in evolution. It took a hundred years from Kepler to Newton to produce the mechanism, namely the inverse square law of gravitation which predicts elliptical orbits.

Actually the theories of evolution and of the origin of life may be separate and distinct, but they are nevertheless standing on common ground in that if you add a creationist element to one you will of course need to add it to the other.
And creationists to my knowledge may accept mutation, but certainly not its randomness.
The "soul" they ascribe to human life was not in their view a randomly generated insertion.
And the ultimate goal of creationists is to preserve the concept of that eternal soul - unclear as they seem to be about when it showed up, but quite clear about where from and why, and about life's destiny as its receptacle.

Rebecca wrote:

"You are assuming that a mutation somehow decreases the entropy in a sequence."

I think you mean increases. But if so, no you misread what I am saying. The information is not contained entirely in the sequence, but in the interaction between what that sequence codes for and the environment. And properly speaking, since it is populations that evolve, rather than individuals, the 'increase' or 'decrease' in entropy should be seen as a property of populations that hold various sequences, not the sequence itself. The filter of selection operating in the interaction is what can lead to an increase in biological diversity, which is surely a decline in a system's overall entropy. Notice I said 'can lead to', rather than 'must lead to'. Speciation and diversification is just one possible outcome of selection acting on variation.

Yes, I meant "increases". However, even with your explanation, you are still wrong. Entropy is used to describe microstates of atoms and flux of energy. Whether a population has diverse sequences or not is nothing that "has" an entropy. An "increase in biological diversity" is not "a decline in the system's overall entropy". That's just not what the laws of thermodynamics are about.

Now, whether amino acids are just swimming around or build a peptide, that's where entropy applies. Whether they build wither sequence A or B or A and B in two different organisms, the entropy stays the same. The laws of thermodynamics quite frankly don't care whether you think biological diversity is information or whether we see tree rings as information.

Jodeo, your "second type" of creationist -- the "scientific" -- is the empty set. There are no such people.

And yes, biogenesis is as yet an unsolved problem (and should be taught as such), but frankly, it's not as hard as you make it out to be, either. Especially since the border between "life" and "non-life" is fuzzy and arbitrary. (Is a virus alive? How about a prion? A crystal?)

Jodeo, several false assumptions here.

Let's start with the obvious: "And we know that nearly all - if not all - are harmful or neutral."

No, we don't "know" any such thing. You are told that this is the case -- by creationist web sites. not by biologists. Get this through your head, please: one of the reasons that biologists hold creationists in contempt is that creationists insist on passing on false information.

The vast majority of mutations are either silent or neutral or near neutral. After that, the greater number are detrimental. However, a significant number ARE beneficial; and this little thing called "non-random selection" (which creationist sources insist on ignoring) provides a one-way gate which works to filter detrimental mutations out while keeping beneficial mutations in. [This is not 100% efficient and is definitely an oversimplification, but it is the basic concept you HAVE to grasp.]

Think of it this way. Let's say that you buy a lot of M&Ms, but only blue ones are "good" and you want to keep them for later. Red ones, on the other hand, you are absolutely neutral about, and if you get a red M&M there is a precisely 50/50 chance that you will keep it for later or throw it away. The other colors you don't much care for at all. Let's say, further, that blue ones are rare; maybe only one out of every hundred M&Ms is blue. Red ones are more common; generally 40 out of every 100. THAT part, though, is random.

The exact mix of M&M colors in every pack of M&Ms you buy is random.

But once you have a pack of M&Ms, you dump it out on the table, pick out the blue ones, throw away or keep the red ones at random (half and half, maybe), and throw away or give away the rest -- just get rid of them somehow.

After a given period of time, and many bags of M&Ms, you will have a significantly large pile of blue M&Ms, despite how rare they were to start with. And what's more, even though they are significantly more rare than the red ones, and you are keeping red ones half the time too, over time blue will even out with red, or overtake! The reason is simple: you aren't keeping all the red ones, and you ARE keeping all the blue ones. Over time, the proportions inevitably change.

(Think it through. Or try it. Just don't blame me for chocolate overdose.)

Mutations are rare in terms of how many happen per base pair of nucleotides -- we're talking about one mutation per 10,000 bp per genetic replication in bacteria, and a couple of orders or magnitude less in eukaryotes, with their better DNA repair mechanisms. But given that, say, humans have nearly 4,000,000,000 base pairs, and there are more than 6,000,000,000 humans, that means mutations even in humans are common. They happen in the hundreds, in every single individual on earth. Every organism, in fact, has mutations that way. Fewer mutations than happen are passed on to the next generation, but the "filtering" for good or bad is ongoing and there is plenty of input.

Most of the mutations are silent or neutral -- they are kept or lost at random (there's your 50/50). Detrimental ones are often lost -- discarded ones. Beneficial ones are often kept -- that is your stack of blue M&Ms.

Over time, effects stack up.

....There is a further complication, of course, in that a mutation which is beneficial under one set of physical circumstances may be detrimental under others, and a mutation which is detrimental under many circumstances may be beneficial under others. This depends on the physical environment of each organism and population, and the physical environment is never static. This is why population trends can reverse themselves or contradict themselves and why there are many branches of variation, and why there are holdovers of "detrimental" mutations in some populations (because the population went through a period of selection where those were beneficial, in the past.) Nevertheless, evolution is cumulative -- even where features are lost, such as cave fish losing their functional eyes, it isn't a precise undoing of the steps that were taken to get functional eyes in the first place -- it is additional, different steps which "silence" the mechanisms for growing eyes.

I think a lot of creationists actually understand this and even accept it as "adaptation" -- but fail to understand how it contributes to changing morphologies over time. Mutations add up. Eventually mutations which have happened in different populations of the same species, end up meaning that those different populations are too different to breed; and as long as they are isolated, more differences can build up, and more, and more, until they are quite obviously no longer the same thing. There is no magic that stops this from happening, and there is no magic dividing line between this and local adaptation; it is all the same process.


Just one more thing, since this is already long.

You wrote:
The challenge of organizing inorganic materials into life with energy - or even "entropy" - is far more incredible. The "information" here is - what? Amino acids? Water? Methane? The energy is the sun coupled with surface forces (e.g. wind) and geothermal sources, perhaps a dab of gamma rays and such from space. But what is directing the information? We don't have the benefit of genetic mutations here.

The "information" here is chemical properties. It is chemical reactivity. Once again, "random" is NOT entirely random.

Chemical properties are the result of how many electrons orbit each atom, and in what positions -- that is what reacts with other atoms. And this is just, you know, the physical universe. This is what atoms are, this is the inevitable interaction of the physical forces which govern physical matter. You can say it all came from God if you want to, but nevertheless, we can quite successfully quantify, map and understand it: it is nature.

Given the physical rules and properties of physical chemistry, it is inevitable that not all chemical reactions are equally possible or equally likely. Chemical reactions happen preferentially, and preference depends on what is present and energy levels. This being the case, finding circumstances under which abiotic ("inorganic" is NOT the right term, btw) molecules will spontaneously self-assemble, is most certainly amenable to experimentation.

Which is being done.

Which makes it part of science.

For one very, very well known example of the spontaneous self-assembly of abiotic molecules into ordered forms, look up "lipid micelles", or "protocells". Lipids (which can and do form from some abiotic processes, as well as more commonly from biotic ones) will and do, commonly, easily, form bilayer "bubbles" with a distinct inside and outside, which persist, grow, and may even "reproduce" by splitting.

In fact, it is well accepted that this is one of the mechanisms which would have allowed early life to form. And while we cannot go back in time and prove that it *did* happen, we most certainly have demonstrated that it *can* happen, and we can replicate it at will in the lab. And it doesn't have to be "directed" by anything so complex as genetics, because it is "directed" by the simple physical nature of the universe.

The search for similar mechanisms is actually being done for all the threads which may have contributed to the development of the first "living" things, most significantly by a team at MIT. This experimentation to find what is physically possible, what is physically likely, the mechanisms by which it works, and the circumstances which allow or facilitate it, allows us to make predictions about other things we could look for in nature (such as fossils, other geological remains, or remnants of structures in more modern living things) which can give us a hint as to whether or not that is how it happened. That process of experiment, prediction, testing and evaluation is what makes the search for abiogenesis science, and not religion.

Do you understand this?

I hope so. If you don't, say something about it. We can try a better explanation.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 12 Nov 2008 #permalink

I think everybody misses a very simple point. Creationism is not a scientific theory, it can neither be proved nor disproved.

Evolution is a scientific theory and as such it can be proved or disproved.

It does not matter whether evolution is right or wrong, creationism does not belong in any scientific setting (school, journal, etc), end of.

Cre(a)tini(o)sts think that if they prove the theory of evolution wrong then they have proved creationism right.

Re cwfong

I will respectfully have to disagree with Mr. cwfong as to his assertion that life origin and evolution are interlinked to the extent that if one believes in supernatural intervention in the former, one must also believe in supernatural intervention in the latter.

If one takes the Deist position, it is perfectly reasonable to postulate that god caused the first replicators to appear and then withdrew from the scene and allowed evolution to take its course without his further intervention.

Re Luna_the_Cat

A perfect example of a mutation that may be beneficial in one setting and deleterious in another is the gene for sickle cell anemia. This is a recessive gene which, when present on both pairs of chromosomes causes the sickle anemia condition but when present on only one chromosome provides resistance to malaria. Thus, in mosquito infested regions, individuals without the gene and individuals with the gene on both chromosomes are disadvantaged and produce fewer descendants while individuals with the gene on only one chromosome are advantaged and produce more descendants, thus preserving the recessive gene in subsequent generations.

Re Scott Hatfield

As Mr. Hatfield states, the problem is that creationists refuse to acknowledge that evolution consists of both a random part (e.g. mutations) and a non-random part (e.g. natural selection).

SLC, the creationists that are questioning the theory of evolution are not to my knowledge the deists that you make reference too. And my reference to the creationist element was not to supernatural intervention in general - some of today's supernatural may be tomorrow's material for all we know.

One of the great frustrations in responding to anti-creationsim literature is that while evolutionist often point out a lack of sound scientific evidence in an argument for creation, they rarley produce any scientific evidence for evolution. Don't misunderstand me, I am all about investigating EVERY possibility but I still have seen no evidence that evolution can account for the creation of life. The only evidence I have seen for evolution is the obvious and undeniable evidence for evolution WITH IN existing species on our planet.

By Robbie Whitaker (not verified) on 12 Nov 2008 #permalink

Life was arguably the result of natural adaptation by default rather than purpose, and thus life's creation and its evolution are inseparable.

Robbie Whitaker:

The entire fossil record.
All of genetics.
Observation of multiple mechanisms for evolution in multiple different settings, and the fact that we can describe and quantify these mechanisms.
The fact that we have observed speciation.

That is the evidence for evolution.

I get the impression that you think that "belief" in evolution springs simply from lack of evidence of creation, rather than being merely accepted because of the sheer overwhelming mass of evidence for it within biology and the geological record. This bespeaks a deep ignorance of the field that you should probably get a formal education to address.

The fact that you have reached this point in your life in apparent complete ignorance of all these things, though, is not terribly encouraging.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 12 Nov 2008 #permalink


As has been mentioned above, it's helpful if you don't conflate evolution with the origin of life.

The fact that evolution works, in organic beings as well as on a host of other substrates (society and computer programs, for instance), is beyond doubt.

Probably what you seek is evidence that 'evolution' is somehow responsible for the origin of life. This question is in itself badly defined, because if you restrict concepts of evolution to biological evolution only (and most creationists do), then what does evolution mean when there's no substrate?

It seems to me that what you really care about is whether or not there is a scientific explanation for the origins of life, including creating the substrate for biological evolution.

In summary: stop conflating, and you'll be less confused. :)

Luna_the_cat, at least Robbie has shown inquisitiveness by coming to such a forum to pose (what appears to be) a question. Inquiry is somehow the first step in a scientific approach, is it not? :)

Thanks for the response, well at least the first part of your response. I am not, nor have I claimed to be a biologist nor an expert in this field and your attempt to make this argument personal is, in my limited experience, a typical response from an evolutionist. I am not questioning your education nor your reasoning, I am simply asking for an explination, and in this case, evidence.

My background, and my degree's (yes, that is plural) are in Mechanical Engineering so I would like to think that I do, at the very least, have a scientific approach to my thinking and my reasoning and am quite cabaple of following your logic or interpreting any evidence that you might present.

So, show me, or point me to this "overwhelming mass of evidence for it within biology and the geological record". As I said before, this is not my field of expertise and I am truely just asking to see the evidence here. I know you said it is there, I would just like to actually see it and understand it rather than simply be told that it is there.
Thanks again for the response.
- Robbie

By Robbie Whitaker (not verified) on 12 Nov 2008 #permalink


It's good that you ask for evidence, but you're going to have to do a little work yourself -- spoonfeeding won't work.

I am not a biologist either, but I am aware of some of the most important areas of biology where evolution is seen on a daily basis.

Molecular biologists see evolution of organisms on a daily, nay, hourly basis. It is so clear, not just to the hundreds of thousands of lab scientists, that even creationists cannot deny what they call "micro evolution".

As has been pointed out before, the main area of scientific research on evolution is not whether it occurs, but the degree to which different mechanisms work in different organisms, and on different time-scales.

Much of what is called 'macro evolution' can be seen in Developmental biology. In fact, evolution acts massively on developmental pathways. It is a little bit like changing the output of a program by changing the program source code, rather than changing the output directly. These networks can be traced, from species to species.

The biggie, of course, is the genome, and Bioinformatics. The relationship between individuals, or even just a given piece of coding DNA, can be traced with incredible accuracy. As you can imagine, the amount of data are overwhelming.

If I were a Paleontologist, I'd be able to rattle off all the incredible number of transition fossils that we've found. This is not surprising, if you think about the timescales.

If I were a Zoologist, I'd be able to tell you about the speciation that we see today, now, in the present.

Lastly, there's the classic instance of a pair of scientists returning to track Darwin's Finches.[1] To their amazement, evolution by natural selection is measurable, and is happening now, during our lifetime.

For a complete list of books, see Pharyngula. [2]


Thanks for the detailed response, I appreciate the references because that is what I am looking for. I don't want to be spoon fed, I just want to be pointed in the direction of the food if you will. Thanks, again I will most definitely look at your links and repond back to what I encounter.
- Robbie

By Robbie Whitaker (not verified) on 12 Nov 2008 #permalink

Re Robbie Whitaker

An example of evidence for the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees is described on the video linked to below which features part of a lecture by cell biologist Ken Miller. Note that this does not prove that chimps and humans had a common ancestor as there is no such a thing as a proof in science, unlike mathematics. There is only evidence and falsification.

2nd Law or no 2nd Law, there is no practical model known for getting life from non-living material based on what we expect to find on earth's surface some 2 billion years ago.

But that's not the thing.

The "thing" is we're to accept that it happened anyway, even though it's not observable, testable, or repeatable.

It is quite true that there currently is no accepted, testable theory for the origin of life (which is of course quite different from evolution by natural selection). So if you want, you can decide "It must have been magic," and give up looking for scientific explanations. This is, of course, why no scientific progress ever comes from those who believe in a magical explanation for the origin of species or the origin of life. Because once you decide "It must have been magic, " you are at a dead end--there is nothing to investigate. Meanwhile, those who have sought natural explanations have continued to make important discoveries: spontaneous, inorganic synthesis of the building blocks of life, catalytic RNA, self-organizing replicating vesicles. Do these provide at least a partial explanation of the origin of life? Nobody is quite sure--yet. But all of them are discoveries that would not have been made (and indeed were not made) by people willing to conclude "it must have been magic" and give up on seeking other explanations.


So if you want, you can decide "It must have been magic," and give up looking for scientific explanations. This is, of course, why no scientific progress ever comes from those who believe in a magical explanation for the origin of species or the origin of life. Because once you decide "It must have been magic, " you are at a dead end--there is nothing to investigate.

You raise a very important point here.

Lack of creativity is frequently a big hurdle. When you see a magician, a mere mortal, perform tricks, it seems literally magical, even supernatural. But as soon as you find out what the trick was, it's easy, obvious even!

Same with nature. It's OK to sit in a position of ignorance, without invoking some supernatural magic. We are not that good at coming up with theories (let alone testing them!).

Jumping straight to a magical explanation shows a profound lack of or desire for creativity. Just as you would not jump to the conclusion that a magician is really supernatural, so the same jump need not be made in explaining the universe.

Robbie Whitaker:

Apologies for my grouchiness. It stems from the fact that I see so much of this information that it truly boggles me that anyone can have reached adulthood without encountering it. Also, I have to say (unfortunately) that the majority of people I have encountered in the past who have said "But what evidence is there FOR evolution?" in such a manner have also been dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool creationists, who have no interest at all in the answer and who will ignore any amount of effort put into providing detail. That has, I suspect, poisoned the well in that I now tend to react to similar questions with automatic suspicion of lack of good faith.

Larry Fafarman:

In an ideal school environment, with ideal teachers and plenty of time, going over the "arguments against evolution" and why the don't hold water, and the philosophy of science, would indeed be very valuable. But we do not (you may have noticed) live in an ideal world, and there is generally barely enough time in these classes to convey bare factual information on the subject. Not to mention the fact that many teachers appear to be very fuzzy on what constitutes science, and how it works, themselves, so having them try to teach this may end up doing more harm than good in cases.

Let's stick to trying to convey the bare, basic facts of what physically exists, in an understandable form. If that can be accomplished, it becomes the base for later discussion and learning.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 13 Nov 2008 #permalink


To add to what Luna_the_cat said: Even at the College level there's barely time to cover all of the 'basic' ground. Good Professors may even tell you that what you are learning is not always the entire picture, and that you can or will revisit these questions later, or necessarily in grad school.

The question is, should Science teaching become political?

To add to what Luna_the_cat said: Even at the College level there's barely time to cover all of the 'basic' ground. Good Professors may even tell you that what you are learning is not always the entire picture, and that you can or will revisit these questions later, or necessarily in grad school.

Moreover, evolutionary biology is a huge field. To even begin to do justice to the huge amount of knowledge and accumulated evidence would require a full course--and that is for students who already have a detailed understanding of such things as biochemistry, physiology, thermodynamics, and cell biology.

At a high school level, there is necessarily a great deal of correct information that must be left out. I remember being disappointed that my high school chemistry teacher could not provide me with a detailed explanation of why electron orbitals have those odd dumbbell shapes. Besides, if one gave ID/creationism class time proportional to how much use those ideas are in the research of working biologists, it would be less than one second. So it would really be cheating the students to spend time on long-obsolete ideas when so much information that actually does play a role in modern scientific research has to be left out because of lack of time.

takehome message here: it's very important to keep track of shifting burdens of proof in an argument, because creationists are not generally capable of doing it for you. So, in response to "the fact that 2LOT allows entropy to decrease locally doesn't demonstrate that evolution happens", the answer is "no, but it disproves YOUR assertion that 2LOT proves evolution cannot happen, and I'm only trying to make that narrow point". Sticking to the point is the bane of creationism; and moving off the point, introducing peripheral points, and generally muddying the water tends to be the modus of creationists. The problem is that creationists say so many wrong things that it's very tempting to meticulously correct all their mistakes, meticulousness being the modus of the logical thinker, but this plays into their hands. If you don't stick to the point here, you won't get them to stop saying that 2LOT disproves evolution.

By snaxalotl (not verified) on 13 Nov 2008 #permalink

snaxalotl: good point.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 14 Nov 2008 #permalink

@ Jodeo

"The challenge of organizing inorganic materials into life with energy - or even "entropy" - is far more incredible."

The Miller-Urey experiment performed in 1953 showed that the hypothesized conditions of primitive earth favored reactions that convert inorganic precursors to organic molecules. One hypothesis is that self replicating RNA molecules could have spontaneously formed.

Robbie Whitaker said, on November 12, 2008 2:31 PM:

So, show me, or point me to this "overwhelming mass of evidence for it within biology and the geological record".

The book I like for this is a golden oldie:

"Chromosomes Giant Molecules & Evolution"
by Bruce Wallace (Norton, 1966).

It's no longer in press, but there are lots of used copies available for two to five bucks. Much more evidence has been accumulated since 1966, but I love Wallace's direct, homespun style.

By Dan Styer (not verified) on 14 Nov 2008 #permalink

There also is a failure to note that Genesis 1:1 (In the beginning God created...) violates the first law of thermodynamics (Matter can not created or destroyed...)

Robbie Whitaker,
Please explain to me why the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed.
Remember, I don't want a restatement of the occurrence. eg "The wind blew, it shook, it fell".
I want to know WHY it fell.

I am not a mechanical engineer and I don't intend to learn any math.
I also want your EVIDENCE for why, but remember, I don't intend to learn any math, let alone properties of materials.
But I want a detailed explanation that I can understand.
Good luck.

"My background, and my degree's (yes, that is plural) are in Mechanical Engineering "

snort, grunt... ha, oh yeah, somehow we should have guessed.

(and I don't think that plural means what you think it means)

I've searched and searched and searched for a place to begin a conversation or dialogue (with Jason) and have finally settled upon this topic primarily because as the title directs, we are in "another round."

Unfortunately, I will have to wait until December to receive a possible reply.

I came here because I want to tell Jason and others about my work with a new theory of evolution. There is not too much difference between what we are learning with scientific research and what can be relied upon with the new theory, except this:

If we existed as earlier versions of humanity, and if all versions of humanity on earth can be given as seven "races," then we have distinguishing characteristics and methods for each of these seven phases of human existence.

Because there has not been a great deal of discussion on this theory, we might need to establish basic nomenclature rules. For instance, is a human only the 5th race (present humanity) or is a human each one of the 7 races, operating under a different set of life rules and goals.

This new theory is viewable on my webpage, enlists entropy as a condition to life, and establishes why religion operates "fantastically" whereas humans are limited to what they may know. This new theory concludes that a descent of the human "kingdom" occurred through the animal "kingdom" and that while the two kingdoms interacted or paired (visualize cells perhaps), an exchange took place so that the humans managed to ascend the animals OFF THE EARTH. For a time (4th race) humans exist on earth as the solitary kingdom on earth (plants and animals are angels occupying forms temporarily to serve as the human environment). In fact, that environment comes with us and leaves with us, with some exceptions.

Under this theory, the kingdom beyond the human (I have named it girasas) has begun its descent into form (on earth) which has the effect upon the humans here of an ascension occurring within our ranks. As this kingdom draws closer and closer to life within the same bodies that we use, we become more and more subordinate to them, as they are far superior.

A fifth race human has the girasas kingdom at a distance, trying to influence and make itself known for the purpose of taking up residence in our bodies, ascending us to a non-physical state, providing us with further material to serve as our environment (an exchange of angels), and teaching us as well as can be expected. We can be confused to the point that we think because this kingdom is living in us that we are in fact all that it is. This is an error. We are still human with human limitations and this kingdom operates with a body far superior to the human form.

Each kingdom makes the attainment of their form on their own in the sense that they eventually must leave their instructors and perform solo again. Not only do we take what we think we can use from the experience of what a higher kingdom is, but we also must somehow preserve that which we need to instruct the lower animals because we do not follow an upward course (as evolution suggests). Rather we advance by knowing the girasas, and in turn repeat the descent through an animal kingdom causing them to advance by knowing and "actualizing" us in this process of joint cohabitation.

When two kingdoms exist in one body, there is conflict, exchange, spiritual growth of one and materialization of the other. We learn as much as we can, but the process is still one of being ascended off the earth (or entropy). The only way to again regain our life on a planet is to ascend an animal kingdom and build our environment with the angels that we elect to help us, transferring the angels to animals who will be beneficial and serve as their environment and in this way, the being changes with the environment that they care for.

Angels on earth do not have to be a source of discontent. Nothing actually changed except that an evolving animal and plant are not always (or are never) living with us. We meet evolving kingdoms but do not develop life with them other than to be party to their direction and path for one part of the cycle. Angels or involving kingdoms prefer to advance by a lowering - the opposite of evolution and we can help provide for them when we meet the lower kingdom and award them groups of angels to serve as their envirnoment. If we are meeting a girasas kingdom at this time, they are also preparing to saddle us with angels for our future "earth" and until we can part with many of those angels by awarding them to evolving animals, we may have combative conditions on earth. In any event, a cycle such as this view of evolution allows religion to be seen as necessary.

Look what happened in the past whenever people began to think too linerally.

i have created an interesting blog:what is life?all depends on the observer. i think that you will find some interesting ideas there, that are noteworthy, even if you dont agree!!!


Are you the one who said "Improbable things happen all the time" with regard to the likelihood that evolution, which falls into the "improbable" category, happened? I'd like to know what your working definition of "improbable" is. It's vastly different from mine. And Webster's.

The bottom line is, Jason, if you believe (which is an odd word to choose with evolution because evolution is purely scientific, so there is no such concept as a belief system - birds don't "believe" that they must fly south in winter, they just do because it is hard-wired) in evolution, then you cannot also "believe" in an afterlife or a soul. Again, those are purely spiritual/religious concepts that are not acceptable to a scientific approach to life. So then herein lies the debate - why is there a debate?!? If you are an evolutionist and we all just happened to mutate into existence, then there is nothing to discuss or argue about. It is what it is. So the very fact that you choose to create controversy implies that you have something to prove when there should be nothing to prove. Do you get what I am trying to say? No other member of the animal kingdom feels the need to explain why it does what it does. So creationists must be higher-level thinkers than evolutionists, in other words they have evolved to a superior level of thinking about things, in which case you lower-level thinkers are screwed purely by definition. And as an evolutionist you can't possibly believe in the existence of an afterlife or a soul. I think it's funny how evolutionists talk themselves into a corner without even realizing it. What is it that you fundamentally believe? But you can't say that you believe anything because belief implies a level of thinking that does not jibe with evolution. It's a circular argument that you create (omg! create!!!) by opening your mouth. If you simply went through the motions of existence, there would be so much more weight to your argument about the veracity of evolution - which you wouldn't feel the need to argue. It must be exhausting to be an evolutionist and keep track of all of the discrepancies!!! I'm exhausted just trying to explain to you the holes in your way of thinking. Ultimately you come out looking pretty foolish. Do you understand that?

When a creationnist uses this stupid argument, I just tell them, "congratulations, you've just 'proven' that refrigerators do not exist."

Your summary is excellent, Jason. However, the title of the article is "Entropy and evolution", not "Evolution and entropy", though a title discrepancy does not change the fact that the article is an excellent read.

think of how far the earth is from the sun,if it were any futher it would be way too cold,if it were any closer it would be way too hot,and the moon is just right for all tides and magnetic pull.think of how the earth has these layers of atmosphere to sustain life,how there is life supporting water and food,there are way too many factors for the earth and all this abundant life to be an ACCIDENT, big bang from a dot about the size of this period,before the universe existed there was nothing,suddenly nothing exploded,whats next,any more GREAT ASSUMPTIONS THE SCIENTISTS CAN KEEP GUESSING AT,thats what some science does keep guessing,then when they are wrong they throw another asumption out there and say THAT SOUNDS GOOD LETS TEACH THAT,science is supposed to be based on FACTS NOT ASSUMPTIONS.

"Entropy and evolution", not "Evolution and entropy", though a title discrepancy does not change the fact that the article is an excellent read.